Voting 2020: Russia launching cyberattacks, FBI warns; judge tosses Trump lawsuit against NJ; early votes could outpace Election Day ballots

John Bacon and Jorge L. Ortiz, USA TODAY
·11 min read

U.S. authorities are blaming Iranian hackers for threatening emails claiming to be linked to the far-right, authoritarian group Proud Boys that were sent to voters in Florida, Pennsylvania and other states.

The emails threatened to "come after" voters who didn’t vote for President Donald Trump. Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said late Wednesday that voter registration information had been obtained by Iran and Russia in an attempt to undermine confidence in the 2020 election.

Also Wednesday, the Supreme Court blocked a trial judge’s ruling that would have allowed Alabama counties to offer curbside voting, in which a voter completes a ballot and gives it to a poll worker who inserts it into a tabulation machine. The system, allowed in some states, accommodates voters with disabilities and those at high-risk from COVID-19. (For the latest news on the coronavirus pandemic, you can follow our Thursday updates.)

Some context: Many court battles over state voting rules continue across the nation. The pandemic has prompted a record number of Americans to vote by mail and created concerns thousands of ballots could be rejected for a variety of technical reasons. An anxious country may have to wait weeks for election results.

More news to keep in mind: We're less than two weeks until Election Day. USA TODAY is keeping track of what's happening as voters around the country cast ballots. Keep refreshing this page for updates.

If you want to go in-depth: Over the summer, Americans gathered in momentous numbers to protest racial injustice amid a pandemic that disproportionately affected Black and Latino people. Some protesters say the movement shows the importance of voting. Others say voting access has been a cudgel of their oppression. Read more.

Voters have already been casting ballots: Numbers compiled by the U.S. Elections Project website show more than 46 million have voted. In other numbers, the Guardian reports that more than 17% of registered voters in swing states have had their mail-in ballots accepted. USA TODAY's politics team has the latest updates from the campaign trail here.

FBI: Russian hackers on the attack

A day after U.S. officials warned of attempts at election interference from Iran and Russia, the FBI posted an advisory saying state-sponsored Russian hackers have "conducted a campaign against a wide variety of U.S. targets'' at least since September. The targets include government networks at various levels as well as aviation networks.

The FBI said hackers compromised some of the networks and extracted files from at least two servers, but had not disrupted elections or government operations.

"There may be some risk to elections information housed on ... government networks,'' the advisory said, adding that there was "no evidence to date that integrity of elections data has been compromised.''

Judge dismisses Trump lawsuit over New Jersey election rules

The new election rules instituted by New Jersey in response to the pandemic were upheld Thursday by a federal judge, who said President Trump’s campaign had no standing to sue and that its purported fears of voter fraud are speculative.

The campaign said New Jersey’s new rules, which allow local election officials to begin counting ballots 10 days before Election Day and permit them to count non-postmarked ballots received up to 48 hours after polls close, would lead to voter fraud.

U.S. District Judge Michael Schipp dismissed the lawsuit and refused to bar New Jersey from implementing the rules put in place by Gov. Phil Murphy and the state Legislature.

-- Terrence T. McDonald, The Bergen Record

Colorado trailer park tenants threatened with big rent hike if Biden wins

Residents of a Colorado trailer park received notices telling them their rent would likely double if Democratic candidate Joe Biden wins the presidential election, but would remain the same for two years if President Donald Trump got reelected, according to a New York Times report.

Juana Hernandez, whose parents live at Pagel’s Trailer Park in Fort Morgan, about 80 miles from Denver, told the newspaper the notice with the landlord's name was left in the fence of their $280-a-month lot. She called it an attempt at intimidation and noted that most of the trailer park's residents are Hispanic.

State senator Julie Gonzales, an advocate for immigrants’ rights, said she alerted the state attorney general. “Two weeks before such a terribly consequential election, that type of intimidation has no place in Colorado,” Gonzales said.

Sporting venues emerge as options for voters to avoid crowds

Amid reports of long lines at early-voting stations throughout the country, professional sports venues -- with their wide spaces and rows of voting machines -- have emerged as a welcome option for voters who want to avoid the extended waits while having plenty of room for social distancing.

“This was an amazing, fantastic experience,” Jen Cox said after voting at State Farm Arena, home of the Atlanta Hawks.

More than 20 NBA teams signed on to host voting or other election-related activities, such as voter registration, following a summer of social unrest over racial injustice and protests that included player participation. The NFL, MLB and NHL have also gotten involved in similar efforts to facilitate safe voting amid the pandemic.

“We’re going to have thousands every day between now and Election Day voting in NBA arenas,” said Kathy Behrens, president of the league’s social responsibility and player programs. “It feels good to be able to play such a vital role during this pandemic so people can vote safely and easily.”

-- The Associated Press

SPORTS TEAM OWNERS: They support players, but often donate to Republicans, USA TODAY Sports investigation finds

Iowa Supreme Court upholds new law complicating absentee ballot requests

The Iowa Supreme Court has upheld a new law making it harder for county auditors to process absentee ballot requests with missing or incomplete information, days before Iowa's deadline to request a ballot for the 2020 election. The court issued a decision Wednesday evening upholding a Republican-supported law that prevents auditors from using the state's voter registration database to fill in any missing information or correct errors when a voter requests an absentee ballot. The law instead requires the auditor's office to contact the voter by telephone, email or physical mail.

"The overwhelming majority of Iowans have repeatedly said they support voter ID," Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate said. "It’s legal, constitutional and fair."

Stephen Gruber-Miller, Des Moines Register

Advocacy group: Trumpers intimidated New Mexico voters in some areas

New Mexico Common Cause says caravans of flag-waving supporters of President Donald Trump appeared to obstruct and intimidate voters at two polling sites in predominantly Latino neighborhoods in the Albuquerque area last weekend.

Executive Director Heather Ferguson said the incidents took place on the first day of balloting at voter convenience centers in the South Valley and western reaches of Albuquerque on Central Avenue. Ferguson estimated that dozens of potential voters in each location left without voting immediately as a result of the incidents before authorities interceded.

“Voters felt like they had to run the gauntlet trying to get to the polling station,” Ferguson said. "Many of them saw what was going on and just turned their vehicles around and left."

Election problems: What to keep in mind

This cheat sheet from Columbia Journalism Review offers tips for media organizations reporting on election 2020. There's a lot of good stuff to keep in mind:

  • Voting problems aren't failures. They happen every year and, as CJR notes, hiccups such as voting machines not working or polling places opening late don't mean anything is "rigged."

  • Some problems, however, are significant. CJR recommends the media scrutinize areas that have a history of voter suppression or obstructing minority voters, calling out Georgia as a place to monitor.

  • Don't expect a winner on Election Night. This year is different because mail-in ballots could be as high as 30%. Previously, that number was 3%-5%. It will take a while to tally.

  • Seriously, expect to wait. State vote certification deadlines differ and don't have to be reported to the federal level until Dec. 8. Additionally, the Electoral College doesn’t meet until Dec. 14.

Iran, Russia obtained voter registration information

Iran and Russia obtained U.S. voter registration information in an attempt to undermine confidence in the 2020 election, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said. Ratcliffe said Iran sought to sow unrest in the U.S. in an attempt to damage the candidacy of President Donald Trump. He also said that Russia has obtained voter information just as the Kremlin had done in when it interfered in the 2016 election.

"These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries," Ratcliffe said. "We will not tolerate foreign interference in our election."

Kevin Johnson and Kristine Phillips

Early ballots will outnumber Election Day votes

For the first time in election history, more people are expected to vote early than on Election Day. With less than two weeks until the election, voter turnout nationally is already nearing 30% of the overall 138.8 million people who voted four years ago.

If voters on Election Day turn out as expected, the U.S. could have the highest percentage of eligible voters actually vote since 1908, according to Michael McDonald, associate professor of political science at the University of Florida, who manages the United States Elections Project.

Several states changed laws from four years ago to either offer or expand early voting, and more people are taking advantage of it, particularly voting by mail, amid the coronavirus pandemic. States have also gotten better at reporting their daily vote tallies.

Joey Garrison

Lawsuits, pandemic and Trump rhetoric fuel 2020 election concerns

Thousands of ballots could be rejected and voters might be forced to wait days or weeks before a winner is determined, throwing the 2020 election into disarray. Stoking the anxiety and deep political divisions is the incumbent candidate himself. Lagging behind Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden in the polls, President Donald Trump has relentlessly claimed that massive voter fraud involving mail-in ballots is underway and has hinted he expects a conservative-leaning Supreme Court, with three of his appointed justices, to intervene in a disputed election.

"If the election is not very close, then I don't think the election is going to get a lot of litigation," said Rick Hansen, an election law expert from the University of California Irvine. But if it's close, Hansen said, expect a kind of "trench warfare" in several states.

Kristine Phillips

Headlines from elsewhere and resources on voting

☑️How to make sure your a mail-in ballot is counted and not discarded.

🗳️ USA TODAY's Voter Guide has everything you need on registering to vote, when your state begins voting and what the candidates think about the issues.

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Group monitoring foreign elections takes on American democracy

A global election monitoring group will be deployed across the U.S. for the presidential election on Nov. 3. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, an intergovernmental organization, has been monitoring elections among its 57 members in North America, Europe and Asia for two decades. Its mission is to assess how well a democratic vote is functioning and to make recommendations for improvements in areas that touch on transparency, accountability and voter pluralism.

OSCE has observed eight previous U.S. elections, beginning in 2002 with the mid-term congressional elections that followed 2000's presidential election of George W. Bush. OSCE called the 2000 vote "highly controversial, divisive and litigious." Based on that assessment, 2020 could be eye-popping for the agency.

Kim Hjelmgaard

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Voting problems 2020: Iran, Russia election email; early ballot record